NDP will provide OHIP coverage for mental health care

By Lincoln DePradine

Dr Leo Edwards

The implementation of a New Democratic Party (NDP) Universal Mental Health Care plan “will significantly change access to mental health’’ in Ontario, according to Dr Leo D. Edwards, a Black clinical psychotherapist.

“I really like this plan. Mental health support would just be so much easier for people to access,’’ Edwards told The Caribbean Camera, in commenting on the NDP’s plan.

The New Democrats’ initiative, announced ahead of provincial elections in June, includes a promise by the party, if elected to form the government, to expand publicly funded mental health services. Mental health counselling and therapy, for the first time ever in Ontario, will be covered by government with use of the OHIP health card.

“Too often, people who think they need help also think they’ll never be able to afford it. People are suffering, with nowhere to turn,’’ said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “Mental health care is health care. And together, we can do so much better; we can take action to fix it. So in Ontario, you’ll get mental health care with your OHIP card, not your credit card.”

Edwards, a counsellor specializing in helping people with autism and other mental health challenges, said using OHIP to cover mental health services – especially after the trauma suffered by many during the COVID-19 pandemic – “makes sense’’.

“Because in private practice, the average cost of therapy is about $120. I’ll tell you, a lot of individuals and families that reach out that are from our community, don’t have the private insurance to cover that; and so, they cannot access counselling. And, as the plan suggested, when they seek it through a funded place like a community health team, they have incredible long waits,’’ said Edwards.

“The second thing that I really like about the NDP plan is the two-tier approach, where they’re proposing six counselling sessions first; and then, if needed, an additional six sessions. Some folks really just want someone to talk to for a short period, like a brief intervention.’’

Under the plan, the NDP also pledges to introduce legislation that recognizes mental health as being as important as physical health.

As well, the party proposes to create what it calls “Mental Health Ontario’’, describing it as a “new coordinating organization that will take the lead on identifying and publicly reporting on mental health needs; developing a comprehensive waitlist for services; bringing in province-wide mental health standards’’; and also “making sure that mental health and addiction programs are delivered comprehensively across Ontario’’.

“The legislation recognizing mental health as important as physical health, if it is passed, would obviously have an impact on policy; and then, policy would then have an impact on practice. It probably would, as well, shift the way people think about mental health,’’ said Edwards, who holds a PhD. from Lancaster University in the UK.

Establishing “Mental Health Ontario’’ as a hub or one-stop-shop is also an “excellent’’ idea, said Edwards.

Under the current system, he said, seeking access to a counsellor, crisis support personnel or other mental health assistance is “very fragmented, very complex and can be very frustrating for many communities, especially communities where English isn’t the first language’’.

In addition, under an NDP administration, the government will fund “primary care doctors, nurses, community health care workers, and social workers to be trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

This approach, according to New Democrats, would increase the number of “available, affordable, and culturally appropriate CBT practitioners’’.

Edwards said he’s “particularly excited’’ at the concept of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

“Why that is important for us, as Black folks, is because the way we make sense of mental health is very different to white Canada. And culturally adapted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy takes into account our lived experience as Black folks. So, that was really good,’’ he said.

One “reservation’’ Edwards expressed about the NDP’s plan is the absence of any mention of “preventive mental health support’’.

Preventative support, he said, would include “practical tips’’ being given by groups such as faith-based institutions and schools to someone in need.

“Practical tips when they’re feeling stressed; you could write things out; you can talk to a friend. These will be really useful,’’ said Edwards. “It would have been nice if they spoke about support that would prevent people from getting to a place of crisis.’’